How to keep chickens: a beginner’s guide

13/07/2021 Housing & purchase Chicken

How to keep chickens: a beginner’s guide

Would you like fresh eggs straight from your very own backyard every morning? Do you want to reduce your household food waste? Make friends happy with a fresh box of eggs? Or do you just like to take care of animals? There are plenty of reasons to keep backyard chickens. But how to do it? Read the answers to all your burning questions here.

How many chickens should I get?


Chickens are social birds, so you should have a minimum of 2. But how many chickens, depends on several personal factors.

Based on the number of eggs

Do you want to keep chickens for their yummy eggs? Then count how many eggs your family consumes in a given week. You can figure this out, for example, by writing down how many eggs you buy at the supermarket each week.

A chicken lays an average of 200 eggs a year (a laying hen: 300 a year). It’s a common misconception that they lay an egg each single day. An average chicken is capable of laying about 3-4 eggs per week. So normally 4-6 chickens should be plenty for a family of 4. If you also like to give eggs to friends or family once in a while, then it may be a good idea to take 1 or 2 extra chickens.


Based on the space available

Chickens enjoy being able to move around freely. They like to scratch and dig all day long. So 3-4 square metres per chicken is preferable for scratching around. If you have 5 chickens, you’ll need a scratching area of 15-20 square meters. 

Not enough space? Go for a smaller breed of chicken, they only need a scratching area of 1,5 square meter per chicken.

What is the best breed of chicken for me?


There are an incredible number of chicken breeds out there. Currently, there are about 500 breeds recognised. Crazy! No wonder you don’t know which one to choose. The following criteria may help you on your way:

  • Do you have enough space in your garden? Smaller breeds generally require less space to scratch around.
  • What do you expect from them? Are you after lots of eggs or do you want to keep them for company or for meat?
  • Do you want a chicken that appreciates petting and cuddling or is that less important to you?
  • Do you prefer white or brown eggs?
  • Is it important to you that your chicken looks nice or special?
In other words, plenty of criteria and possibilities. We would like to give a brief explanation of some well-known breeds to get you started:

The brown or black laying hen

  • Lays about 300 brown eggs per year
  • Strong resistance
  • Easy to keep
  • Ideal for starters

The Silkie

  • Lays about 100 white eggs per year
  • Beautiful to look at
  • Withstands very low temperatures
  • Very small and requires little space
The Cochin
  • Lays about 170 brown eggs per year
  • Beautiful and fully feathered chicken
  • Calm and friendly, so it’s a good option for families with children
  • Small and needs relatively little space
The North Holland Blue
  • Lays about 140 brown eggs per year
  • Good quality and quantity of chicken meat
  • Very large chicken (>3 kg)
  • Resistant to low temperatures

Is it good to have a rooster with your hens?


It’s a common misconception that chickens don’t lay eggs without a rooster. However, the presence of a rooster can have other advantages:


  • Chicks! Unless you remove the eggs from the coop every day, because you prefer not to have little chicks.
  • More structure and hierarchy within the flock.
  • Hens become calmer and bicker less.
  • You’ll be woken up early by the rooster's beautiful crowing (unless you prefer to set your alarm at a decent hour ... 😉).

You may love the sound of a rooster greeting the day, but it may be annoying to your neighbors’ ears. Therefore, it’s best to ask the people in your street if they would mind you keeping one (or more) rooster(s) in your garden. There’s no need to keep 1 rooster per hen. Each rooster can easily manage 4 to 7 hens in his harem.

When do hens
start laying eggs?

Hens usually start laying eggs at the age of 18 weeks, depending on the time of year. In summer, they lay more eggs than in winter, due to the extra hours of daylight. In the depths of winter, hens might stop laying eggs completely.

chicken in chicken coop - kip in kippenhok - flamingo pet products

What is the best way to house chickens?

A shelter and a scratching area

First of all, you need a chicken coop and a chicken run. The perfect home for chickens is a place where they can enjoy themselves, feel safe and lay their eggs. A chicken coop with a covered run attached to it, is the most ideal. Would you like to provide your feathered friends with some extra free-range space, then you can extend the run yourself by using chicken wire.

The size of the chicken coop depends on the size and number of chickens you’re keeping. Your coop should have a covered area of at least 1 square metre per 3 large or 4 small chickens. You should also provide at least 1 metre of perch and a nesting box per 3 to 4 chickens. Put some straw in the nesting boxes as it provides a soft and comfortable base for your feathered friends to lay their eggs in.
In the rest of the chicken coop, you can also put straw or another bedding such as wood shavings, hemp fibre, beech chips or sawdust.

Fresh drinking water all day long

Did you know that when your hen isn’t laying eggs, dirty drinking water can be the culprit? Fresh drinking water is important to keep your chickens as fit as a fiddle.

To provide your chickens with fresh drinking water, you’ll need a drinking bell. It’s a good idea to place the drinking bell at a height or to use one with legs. 

That way, the water doesn’t get dirty so quickly and it would also be more ergonomic for the hen, who drinks by throwing her head back and letting the water sink into her throat. In winter, the water in the drinking bell can freeze. To prevent this, a drinking bell heater can come in handy.

Nutrition

To feed your chickens, you’ll need the following:


Chickens with drinking clock - kippen met drinkklok - flamingo pet products

How often and when should I clean the chicken coop?


Cleaning your chicken coop regularly, helps to keep your chickens healthy. In addition, chickens, just like us humans, find it more pleasant to spend time in a clean coop. Here is an overview of how and when to clean your chicken coop:

  • Daily: collect eggs, remove droppings from the coop
  • Weekly: clean the feeder troughs, drinking bells and perches. Check whether the bedding needs to be replaced or not.
  • Monthly: clean the nesting boxes (twice a month during winter)
  • Half yearly: replace sand or soil in the outside area and disinfect everything

C
lean with 9 parts water and 1 part soap (a neutral or alkaline soap or a commercial stable cleaner). Disinfecting the chicken coop should be done with caution. Never use too much disinfectant and ask the retailer for advice on which type of product is safe for your chickens. Rinse off the disinfectant thoroughly after a few hours.

Should I heat the chicken coop in winter?


It’s sometimes said that you can heat the chicken coop with heat lamps. But many animal experts advise against this, because the difference between the temperature in the chicken coop and the temperature outside would be too high. Often it’s not necessary, because chickens have thick feathers. If it gets really cold, your chickens will just cuddle up together and keep each other warm.

However, it’s best to buy a heater for the drinking bell so that your chickens' drinking water doesn’t freeze on cold days.

What to feed and not to feed chickens?


A grain mix is a great way to provide chickens a balanced diet. In addition, chickens get a lot of kitchen waste on their plates. But what is good for them? And what can make them sick? An overview:

Safe for your chickens:
  • Vegetable leftovers
  • Fruit leftovers (may also be overripe fruit)
  • Stale bread, rice, yoghurt
  • Fresh meat
  • Shells
  • Dried, crushed eggshells. Make sure they're unrecognisable, otherwise they might start pecking their own eggs.

Be careful with:
  • Too much of the same food e.g. stale bread, fruit or meat
  • Bad or rotten kitchen leftovers
  • Raw potatoes and potato peels
  • Banana and kiwi peels
  • Citrus fruit
  • Uncooked rice
  • Chocolate

How and where to buy a chicken? 

If you want to be sure your chickens are healthy and lay a lot of eggs, it’s better to buy purebred chickens from a breeder. This will also allow you to enjoy them for years to come. If you buy your chickens online, you don't really know what you’re buying. You may pay a little less, but you could end up with a less healthy and less strong chicken.


How much does a chicken cost?

Purebred chickens from a breeder cost on average between 10 and 15 euros. If you figure out how much you pay for eggs at the grocery store, then you’ll see that raising chickens will save you money in the long run. However, there are also housing, feeding and maintenance costs to consider.

Person holding chick - persoon houdt kuikentje vast - flamingo pet products

How to treat a sick chicken? 


To keep your chickens healthy, a hygienic chicken coop is very important as discussed earlier on in this blog. Also make sure they get a varied diet with sufficient nutrients. This will keep them as fit as a fiddle. Does your chicken suffer from persistent diarrhea, has your feathered friend lost weight or doesn’t lay eggs anymore? Then your chicken may be sick. If so, ask your vet for advice. Or ask a chicken breeder, because not all vets have much experience with caring for chickens.
chickens in chicken run - kippen in kippenren - flamingo pet products

Extra tips on how to keep chickens 

  • Prevent boredom by hanging a lettuce or apple in the coop. Your chickens will enjoy pecking at it for a long time.
  • Different levels in the coop is more interesting than just a flat space. Chickens like it and it gives them different opportunities to have a look at what’s going on around them.
  • Do your hens lay their eggs scattered all over the coop or don’t you know where to find them? Then place a dummy egg where you want your feathered friends to lay their eggs. Chickens are more likely to lay eggs where there are already eggs. Remove the eggs every day but leave the artificial one in place.
  • Get your children involved in caring for your chickens. Collecting eggs and feeding chickens teaches your child how to be independent and it’s fun too.
  • If you want tame chickens you best buy them when they are young. Then they’re easier to tame.
  • When you’re planning to introduce a rooster to your flock, then it’s best to do this right from the start. Once the flock is established it’s difficult to add new birds.
  • Dried mealworms are a delicious snack for your chickens.

  • Once you’ve brought your chickens home, put them immediately on a perch inside the coop. This will help them find their sleeping place. Always check your chickens return inside the coop for the night. To be sure, you can leave the coop door closed for the first few nights.
  • Do you have an open top chicken run (e.g. fenced off with wire)? When you buy a chicken, always check to see if it has its wings clipped. Some chicken breeds need this to prevent them from escaping.
  • As chickens get older, they lay fewer eggs or even no eggs at all. The average life span of a chicken is 5 years. Within their first 2 years of life, most laying hens will be at their peak production.
  • Would you like to keep rabbits and chickens? Ensure that they both have a private enclosure. This will prevent them from eating each other’s food and it also makes sure chicken droppings won’t stick to your rabbit’s feet.

In a nutshell 

Chickens are social birds, so you should have a minimum of 2. Depending on how much space you have and how many eggs you want, you can work out how many chickens you prefer and how many you can fit into your chicken coop.
Currently there are 500 chicken breeds out there. Do you want a chicken that lays a lot of eggs? Then a black or brown laying hen is a good option. Do you have little space and do you prefer a good-looking chicken? Then the Silkie is a great choice. Cochins, on the other hand, are easy to tame.
Hens usually start laying eggs at the age of 18 weeks. But it also depends on the time of year.
The most important thing you need to keep chickens is a covered shelter with a laying area and perch, enough free-range space, bedding, fresh drinking water …
Chickens can eat most kitchen scraps as a supplement to their grain mix. Be careful not to feed too much of the same food e.g. stale bread. You should also be careful with raw potatoes, banana and kiwi peels ...
If you want to be sure your chickens are healthy and lay a lot of eggs, it’s better to buy purebred chickens from a breeder. A purebred chicken from a breeder costs on average between 10 and 15 euros.